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Thirty-year schedule challenges arbitrary US EPA policy to protect community against high rates and ensure environmental benefit

In compliance with the Clean Water Act, The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) today adopted a 30-year schedule to design and construct its Combined Sewer Overflow Control Program, which aims to limit pollution caused by combined sewer overflows during heavy rainfall. The $1.6 billion program is in addition to $820 million invested by the District in past years for the same purpose.

"We believe we have a realistic and achievable timeframe to complete this complex and costly program," said Erwin Odeal, NEORSD's Executive Director.

The Combined Sewer Overflow Control Program, which calls for the construction of 103 additional miles of tunnels and connecting sewers through 65 construction projects, will reduce targeted combined sewer overflows by 60 percent in the first 12 years and 88 percent by year 20.

The District's decision was made despite the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) position that all such programs around the country be completed in no longer than 20 years. The USEPA has no basis for its position, as neither existing laws or environmental regulations compel a 20-year maximum schedule.

"This is simply an arbitrary timeframe set by the EPA that does not take into consideration the complexity of the work, the enormous cost to our community, or the work already completed by the District to curb the problem," said Odeal. "Our responsibility is to this community, and we will proceed with the work outlined in our program because we know it's the right thing to do."

Greater Cleveland's residents, who are the District's ratepayers, will pay for the entire $1.6 billion program, since no government funds or tax dollars are available for this work. If forced to adopt the USEPA's 20-year schedule, the cost of the program would rise by $280 million and mean 20 percent higher sewer rates for those 20 years. In contrast, the 30-year plan saves the average resident over $2,700 in sewer charges over the first 20 years.

The USEPA allows for consideration of the affordability of this type of program. Using the USEPA's "affordability analysis", the 20-year schedule constitutes a "high burden" on Greater Cleveland's residents.

"Greater Cleveland's residents are not in a position to pay those types of rates," added Odeal. "It is unconscionable to arbitrarily impose those rates on the American city with the highest poverty index."

If the District agrees to an unrealistic 20-year schedule, not only would the community experience unnecessarily large rates increases and extremely disruptive construction work, the District (and therefore Greater Cleveland's residents) would be subject to very large fines at the end of the 20 years if the work is not finished.

"We refuse to subject our future generations to this type of risk," added Odeal. "We're grateful for the community's trust for the last three decades, and we plan to continue earning that trust."

Furthermore, a 30-year schedule is necessary to limit the disruption that this type of complex construction would cause in neighborhoods. In addition, rushing through this type of work and having too many projects under construction simultaneously would be harmful to the environment.

Founded in 1972, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has been instrumental in reducing the significant environmental problems Northeast Ohio faced just a few decades ago with the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. The District believes that clean water and a healthy environment are critical to developing the region for future generations.